177. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1

Wednesday, February 23, 1997
4:00 p.m. (30 minutes)
The Oval Office


To receive a message he is carrying from President Ceausescu, and to review the status and future of American-Romanian relations.


A. Background: Mr. Pungan (age 50) occupies the position of chief of the group of Presidential counselors; he combines both domestic and international relations as a special advisor. Outside of the formal party structure he ranks as Ceausescu’s senior advisor and trouble-shooter. He has been used as a contact with both Presidents Nixon and Ford. He speaks passable English, was formerly Ambassador to London (1966–72), and served in the Embassy here (1959–62). He is close enough to Ceausescu that he can take up almost any subject and speak with assurance. The current rumor is that he will become the Foreign Minister.

His mission is to make an early contact with your administration in order to reconfirm the “special” relationship that we have developed with Romania over the past decade. This relationship, symbolized by visits to Romania of Presidents Nixon and Ford, and return visits by Ceausescu, has served the interests of both sides: for us it underscores our willingness to deal with East European countries, independent of [Page 528] the impact on Moscow, and to encourage those countries which have had the temerity to take autonomous stands on foreign policy; for the Romanians, we serve as a partial counterweight to the Soviets, and as a demonstration that independence is reciprocated by mutually advantageous relations, especially in commerce, and by enhancing the voice of Romania in international councils.

Thus, by receiving Ceausescu’s special emissary early in your term, you are demonstrating a basic continuity and our willingness to continue a reasonably close relationship.

Beyond this general aspect, Pungan will be probing for a willingness to invite Ceausescu to Washington, probably later in the year if he visits Canada.

He will leave Washington for New York and then join Ceausescu, who is currently touring West Africa.

B. Participants: Mr. Pungan will be accompanied by the Romanian Ambassador Nicolae Nicolae; Vice President Mondale, Secretary Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and a notetaker.

C. Press Plan: The meeting has not been announced in advance; after the meeting, Jody Powell could simply say that you received Mr. Pungan as an emissary from President Ceausescu, and that you discussed Romanian-American relations.


American Romanian Relations

Economic: The main concern of the Romanians is that the new Administration continue the policy of its predecessor in granting a waiver under the Jackson-Vanik amendment that requires free emigration as a condition for Most Favored Nation treatment. As a result of a carefully negotiated understanding, Romania permits a small emigration of Jews to Israel, which satisfies the letter of the law. Since this waiver is granted under a Presidential finding, Pungan will probably seek an indication that you will continue this policy. (In fact, emigration has fallen off, but Israel is not yet concerned because it does not appear to be a result of any internal crackdown.)

Technology-Nuclear: The Romanians are negotiating with Canada for a nuclear reactor, and are seeking assurances that we will grant licenses to American parts; they understand our non-proliferation problems, though Ceausescu recently told our Ambassador that Romania could make nuclear weapons if it wished at any time (an exaggeration), and that no one could foresee where technology would lead in ten years. In any case, the Romanians have been clearly forewarned about our reservations concerning a full fuel cycle or manufacture of heavy water.

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1. I want to assure President Ceausescu of the willingness of my administration to develop mutually advantageous relations with Romania; we respect Romania’s position of independence and this is the basis on which we can continue, as in the past, with a beneficial relationship.

2. Trade is one of the main points in our relations, and we expect it to continue under the conditions worked out to comply with our laws on Most Favored Nation treatment.

3. As for the export of technology, we regard it as politically significant that Romania has turned to the West for the purchase of a nuclear reactor; we will not place obstacles in the way of dealing with Canada, but as our Ambassador has already told your President, we are determined not to permit the export of technologies that would facilitate weapons development.

4. I hope that President Ceausescu has an occasion to visit the US later in the year.

International Issues

Romania has developed an independent position on the Middle East question, breaking with the Soviet line in 1967 and refusing to denounce Israel. Subsequently, however, a more even-handed position has emerged, and occasionally the Romanians put themselves forward as possible intermediaries; for example, they might offer to carry messages to the PLO. In fact, we have used them as an indirect channel to get our views across on the assumption that whatever we say they will repeat to the Arabs.

Somewhat similarly, the Romanians offer their services in relaying messages to the North Koreans, and even the Chinese, since they try to take a semi-independent stand on the Sino-Soviet dispute.

Since Ceausescu is traveling in Africa, anything you may want to say about the situation in southern Africa may also be taken into account in his discussions there.

Finally, of course, the Romanians are deeply concerned with the politics of the Soviet bloc, East-West issues such as the Helsinki agreements, MBFR, and disarmament issues in general; Romanian representatives are often helpful in giving us frank assessments and have cooperated in preparing for Helsinki.

Romanian relations with Moscow have improved since Brezhnev’s visit in November. They are always fragile, however, and depend on Soviet restraint in not pressing for greater Romanian integration in the Warsaw Pact.

1. I would appreciate hearing your analysis of how you believe European security issues may develop. For our part we are serious [Page 530] about making progress in arms control—specifically SALT, mutual force reductions in Central Europe and a test ban. Moreover, we want the preparatory conference in Belgrade for the review of the Helsinki Accords to yield real progress; we would welcome your suggestions on how these issues could be advanced, in particular, what the situation will be in Yugoslavia after Tito.

Human Rights

In the last week, the Romanians have found themselves confronted by the first sign of public dissent by their intellectuals. A well known Romanian novelist Paul Goma issued an open letter signed by eight others, not as well known outside Romania. The letter expressed solidarity with the Czech Charter 77, and an appeal to the Government for human rights. Ceausescu responded immediately with a strong denunciation (without naming names). But the protestors have not been arrested (as erroneously reported in the Western press). On the other hand, the Romanians claim they are granting free emigration (more than 5,000 in January–February), but the real figure for 1976 was about 3,000.

Almost certainly this subject will not be raised by Pungan, but you may wish to advert to it.

1. The defense of human rights is a matter of principle with this country, and we will not hesitate to speak our mind when the situation warrants it.

2. We are not linking our concerns to specific policies nor embarking on a moralistic crusade, but it is best that there be no misunderstanding of our intentions.

Attached is an advance copy of Ceausescu’s letter (Tab B[A?]).2

Additional background and briefing material from the Department of State is at Tab B.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 16, Romania: President Nicolae Ceausescu, 2/77–12/78. Secret. In telegram 43644 to Bucharest, February 26, the Department reported that Carter and Pungan discussed Romania’s position on several international issues, including CSCE and disarmament, as well as Romanian desires for improved relations with the United States. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850052–1843) During his visit, Pungan also met with other U.S. officials, including, on February 22, Secretary of Commerce Juanita Kreps to discuss economic issues concerning U.S.-Romanian trade, especially the possibility of eliminating the annual review of Romania for MFN. (Telegram 46496 to Bucharest, March 2; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770072–0554)
  2. Dated February 18, attached but not printed. On March 23, Brzezinski hand-delivered Carter’s signed response to Ambassador Nicolae. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 33, Memcons: Brzezinski: 1–9/77) The text of the letter was transmitted to the Embassy in Bucharest in telegram 65360, March 24, with instructions that the Ambassador seek an early appointment with Ceausescu to review the points made in Carter’s letter. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850052–1846)
  3. Attached but not printed is a February 21 memorandum from Christopher to Carter.